Wednesday, January 16, 2013

But I don’t want to wear something blue!

At some point in wedding planning – perhaps even five minutes before walking down the aisle – every bride hears the saying “Something old, something borrowed, something blue…a sixpence in your shoe.”

It’s pretty easy to affiliate the old, borrowed and sixpence with aspects of a wedding (old = don’t forget your former life; borrowed = the support of friends and family; sixpence (who has those anymore?!) = wealth). Yet, it’s not so easy to determine what “something blue” refers to.

Because the recent DC weather is reminiscent of feeling blue (rainy = blue), I decided to investigate the foundation for the requirement that a bride carry something blue down the aisle. After all, I like to be able to answer any question a bride tosses at me.

What I found was gibberish.

Websites and wedding history books largely tend to attribute the “something blue” to the fact that blue symbolized purity. As you know faithful readers, this is incorrect. Since it was the color of Jesus’s shroud, white has always symbolized purity in the Christian world. Moreover, we never did and continue to not see brides traipsing down aisles in Tiffany or dark blue dresses as a means of proclaiming their innocence.

Intrigued, I set up my own investigation (my husband was working late these past two days, leaving me time to engage in wedding research) and created a connection that I feel more suitably explains why brides are instructed to wear something blue. My theory has to do with the British Order of the Garter and the expense of blue dye.

Never can resist a photo of William;
the badge shown here is the Order
of the Garter.
The British Order of the Garter, which dates back to the 1300’s, is a group of no more than 24 individuals whom the monarch identifies as being chivalrous and bestows the honor of membership in a group dedicated to that purpose. Being a member of the Order indicates that a person has the highest level of honor in all he does – meaning that he or she puts king and country before him or herself.

The badge of the Order is a blue garter. Historically, this garter had two purposes: to hold up the member’s stocking (which is no longer an issue due to the modern invention of elastic) and to display their membership in the prestigious group. From the 1300s to the 1600s, Order members wore their garter every day, and many were even buried wearing them. After all, if you had been asked to join an exclusive club by the king himself, wouldn’t you want to show off your badge?

For formal occasions, a gold-threaded circlet was stitched onto a royal blue cape. Fancy, no?

Women can be members, but do not wear the garter with the enthusiasm as do men because of the inappropriateness historically ascribed to a woman showing her legs. Women do wear the cape, though.

Now, in the 1300s, cloth dye was extremely expensive. The darker you wanted a garment, the more expensive a garment became because of the amount of dye needed to create that color. Moreover, by law only members of the royal family could wear purple. Royal blue, therefore, was the closest color to purple that a (wealthy) person could wear.

Combine all of this together: the Order of the Garter and its exclusive membership + dark blue garter or cape with gold thread symbolizing membership in the Order + women not displaying their garter + the cost of dye + the short distance between royal blue and purple cloth = a blue garter symbolizing power and money with a tinge of chivalry.

(Can you tell that we here at HJ are lawyers through this stream of logic?)

Wanting to emulate the powerful, wealthy elite of their country, British citizens used the color and symbol of the Order of the Garter to indicate the groom’s chivalry and wealth. A bride’s wearing the garter – which back in the 1300s only her husband would see on the evening of their wedding – indicated the bride’s recognition of her new husband’s chivalry towards herself. Families that couldn’t afford to dye an entire garter or to purchase stockings for their daughter turned to the next best thing: dying a slip of cloth deep blue and pining it to the bride’s dress.

Through previous posts, you learned that most U.S. wedding traditions derive from our British ancestors. Therefore, it’s no surprise that American brides carry on the tradition of wearing something blue, which, in HJ’s experience, is usually a garter.

Fortunately, few of HJ’s brides insist on putting a sixpence in their shoes. I’m not sure where we would get one of those, or if it’d be comfortable to walk on. 

Please don't ever wear this; trust us.